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Kelsey Jensen ’14 spends three weeks with Colgate team studying forests in Ethiopia

By Contributing Writer on February 21, 2014

Kelsey Jensen '14 (center) with fellow Colgate students Josh Hair '14 and Mabel Baez '15, traveled to Ethiopia during winter break.


Kelsey Jensen ’14 (center), with Josh Hair ’14 and Professor Carrie Woods, traveled to Ethiopia during winter break.

(Editor’s Note: This post is by Kelsey Jensen ’14, a chemistry major from Williston, Vt. See more photos and read about her daily experiences in Ethiopia at her personal blog.)

During winter break I discovered that working on an interdisciplinary research project in a foreign country is one of the most interesting ways to learn about a new culture.

Research that combines natural science, social science, and humanities is rare to find, but Colgate is a university where collaborations like this happen, and I was lucky enough to get involved. Using the Alumni Memorial Scholarship granted to me upon admission, I spent three weeks of my winter break in Ethiopia working with

Professors Catherine Cardelus and Carrie Woods from the Department of Biology,Peter Klepeis and Peter Scull from the Department of Geography, and Eliza Kent from the Department of Religion, studying the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Forests.

Along with two other students, Josh Hair ’14, a geography major from West Henrietta, N.Y., and Mabel Baez ’15, a biology major from Springfield, Mass., I helped collect samples and data about these forests that will inform us about their current ecological status and future sustainability. As Ethiopia is almost entirely deforested, these forests are islands of biological diversity in an otherwise agricultural landscape.

While we spent roughly nine hours a day in the field, and another one or two processing samples and entering data every night, I did manage to find some time to keep a blog of every day we were in Ethiopia. It is an incredible country with a beautiful landscape and amazingly friendly people.


The research project Kelsey took part in was funded by the university’s Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute. The institute funds several projects each year.

We learned a lot about ecology in the field but we were also learning about the concepts of stewardship in the Ethiopian church, how the people are utilizing this resource and how they understand conservation practices.

Almost every day we spent time with school children who would run up to our cars, excited just to watch the Americans with their funny accents and unusual field gear. We attended an Ethiopian Christmas Mass and were treated to a Christmas meal at a local collaborator’s house, and experienced the incredible two-day, countrywide celebration of the Epiphany. We even had a little spare time to take a boat ride on Lake Tana and visit the Blue Nile water falls!

Despite thorny plants and aggravating biting ants, we were able to fully analyze 14 forests, collecting samples to bring back to Colgate’s labs, and establishing long-term research plots so that this project can continue to track changes of the forests. I could not have asked for a more rewarding research experience and am glad I was able to put time into documenting our adventures!

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